Monday, December 29, 2008

Your Mission should you decide to accept it, is to survive a month in Mission Texas.

We accepted the mission, first was the drive to the border, once you leave San Antonio there is nothing for a couple of hundred miles until you reach the RGV (Rio Grande Valley), once you get there expect nothing but traffic and more traffic, I really think that it was more crowded the southern Florida. All the stores are grouped together in malls so that there is no little mom n pop grocery, if you needed milk and eggs you had to fight mall type traffic and spend 20 minutes finding a parking spot before you could run in and get anything.

Mission was named for the La Lomita Mission which was built on the Rio Grande in the mid 1800's and still stands today. It is open everyday and one of the bigger attractions in this area.

We took the 60 mile drive down the Valley to Brownsville to visit the Zoo. This is a really nice Zoo but nobody was there, I don't think there were more then 50 people in the entire Zoo while we were there. Jim got a new camera for Christmas so here are some Pictures. Cathy also got a new camera for Christmas (Jim's old one).

On the way home we stopped at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, this is a college-prep for boys from 8-12th grade.

It is located on Iwo Jima Blvd, and what would you expect to find on a street with this name, why the Iwo Jima Memorial of course. No not the one that you see in Washington DC, this one is the original. It is the original model prepared by Dr. de Weldon and was used to cast the bronze that is in Washington DC. there are a few different reasons that it is located here. One the weather, the plaster needs to be in a weather zone with certain temperatures and humidity, Two to inspire the Cadets of the Academy and three one of the flag raisers was from this area and is buried at the base of the monument.

There is a small museum here with mementos from the battle of Iwo Jima, a lot of one of a kind things are here that have been donated by soldiers who have stopped by here. There is also a great 30 minutes film on the history of the battle and during this you find out that this statue which was taken from the famous photo taken by Joe Rosenthal is really the second flag raising on Iwo Jima. The first flag raising on Mount Surbachi was at about 10:30 AM, it was a smaller flag that one of the soldiers had carried up there inside his shirt, it was visible by all the soldier fighting on the island but could not be seen from the ships. This was all done during the battle, later in the afternoon a larger flag was brought from the ship and the raising of this one is the one that became famous.
Privates Louis Charlo & James R Michels , Corporal Charles Lindberg, Sergeants Henry Hanson & Ernest Thomas JR and Lieutenant Harold Schrier, names that have been lost in history, these were the men that raised the first flag on Mount Surbachi at Iwo Jima.

The weather here is either 50 degrees and raining or 90 degrees and humid or a very pleasant 75 degrees with 50 MPH winds blowing you down, what this boils down to is Jim getting Bronchitis and a trip to the clinic, Cathy managed to fight it off until I didn't know what to get her for Christmas, so I gave it to here along with another trip to the clinic. This led to us just lying around and watching all the TV marathon that were on during the holidays.

Well about two days before our mission in Mission was up we finally made it to Mexico, drove down to Progresso Texas, and parked the car on the US side, paid the 25 cent toll to walk across the bridge to Mexico. Its funny nobody sez a word to you when you go into Mexico you just cross the bridge and enter the biggest flea market in the world. Progresso Mexico is designed to cater to the American tourist, and they do a very good job of it, anything you can thing of or would want can be had here and for a very cheap price. Medicines, leather products, silver items, dental work, (cleanings for only 10 dollars, extractions for 20), need new glasses no problem, haircut 4 dollars and no waiting 20 chairs, you name it they got it. We spent about 3 hours wandering around spending money and had a ball. I take a generic of Prilosec which cost about 18 dollars for a month supply, I got a three year supply for 50 dollars here, Cathy found a liter bottle of pure vanilla for $1.90, then she found 4 bracelets and three necklaces all of the silver for $50.00, she did a little bargaining here.

Now we have to cross the border back into the USA. as we approached the bridge there was a Mexican soldier behind a wall of sandbags with a 50 cal machine gun pointing down the sidewalk, in the road there was an armored personnel carrier with two more soldiers one behind another machine gun and the other behind a canon. Once we got to the American side is took all of 30 seconds to go through customs and be on our way back to the car. I really wish that we hadn't been sick because we could have spent another few days over here.

As we were driving north on US 77 heading to Corpus Christi we were 85 miles north of the Mexican border, there is a Border patrol post and they stop every northbound car, after a half hour in line it was our turn, "are you American citizens?" Yes, "enjoy your day" and you're on your way, right after the narcotic dogs does his sniffing thing all around your vehicle.

It was fun but I don't think that we will be going back there for quite awhile, maybe for a week to do the Mexican thing again, when I run out of Meds or Cathy runs out of Vanilla, which ever come first.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Comfortable in Comfort

We're in Comfort Texas which is a small town about 35 miles NE of San Antonio, the historical section of town is all antique shops and restaurants. It's in the southern part of the "Hill County" and has some really beautiful drives in the area, one of the drives we took was to Luckenbach. I guess Willie Nelson wrote a song about this place after a friend of his bought a old wooden building here and converted it into a dance hall bar and grill, since then people especially bikers come out here on the week end to toss back a few cold ones. To find it you take a little road out of Fredericksburg about ten miles and you see a street sign, Luckenbach Loop Rd, drive back about a 1/4 mile and you go past the old building, a bunch of outhouses and a dirt parking lot for about 10,000 bikes, continue 1/4 of a mile and you're back on the highway, that's it.

A little closer to home we found the TreĆ¼e der Union, German for "Loyalty to the Union", Monument, this to honor the men killed in the Nueces Massacre August 10th 1862. All of this area was settled by German immigrants, early in 1862 with Texas succeeding, the Confederacy started a draft to build of the fighting forces. Most of the Hill Country counties had voted against secession and were loyal to the Union, because of this Confederate authorities declared this area under martial law. Sixty-one of the German-Texans decided to flee to Mexico where they could wait to join up with the Union forces, at the banks of the Nueces River they were overtaken by Texas Confederate cavalrymen, 34 of the German-Texans were killed in the battle and more were executed after being taken prisoner.

The families of the dead were not allowed to go bury their dead until after the war ended, they then went and collected what remains they could find and brought them back to comfort were they were interned in a mass grave and the Treue der Union Monument was erected. This is the oldest Civil War Monument in Texas and the only one (outside of National Cemeteries) dedicated to the Union sympathizers in any of the Confederate States.

In 1991 an act of Congress granted permission to fly a period US flag at half-staff in perpetuity.

HARPERS WEEKLY New York, January 20, 1866 Funeral of German Patriots at Comfort, Texas August 20, 1865
The procession of three hundred people, headed by the fathers
of four of the victims, old men of sixty and seventy years,
preceded the funeral car drawn by four white horses. Under the
Union banner lay the remains. A detachment of Federal troops
accompanied the cortege. At the grave, E. Degener, father of two
victims, pronounced an oration which brought tears of grief to the
eyes of the mourners. He concluded thus:
"The sacrifice that we, the fathers of the slaughtered, made to
our country and to liberty, is great and dolorous. We shall,
however, console ourselves; we shall be proud of having offered
our sons to the Union, if the glorious victory of its arms bear all
the fruits that the nation and the whole of humanity justly expect
to reap."
The Federal troops fired a salute over the grave. The little
remote site where they rest must be to the nation as sacred as
those places where thousands are deposited. Small in number, far
away from the patriotic heart and the strong arm of the loyal
North, surrounded by fierce enemies of the Union, those brave
and devoted Germans offered their lives.

When you enter Fredericksburg from the east one of the first things you see is Fort Martin Scott, the fort was built in 1849 to protect the settlers from the Indians, the settlers of Fredericksburg had already negotiated a treaty with the Comanche's in 1847 so there was very little for the soldiers to do.
As the frontier continued to move west there was soon very little need for the fort and it was closed in 1853.
Originally there were about 22 buildings at the fort, today their is one original building and four reproductions with more in the planning, the original building is the stone jail.

About 20 miles out of comfort through the winding hills is Camp Verde, it was established as a military outpost of Fort Mason in 1855 to protect settlers from the dangers of frequent Indian attacks.
In 1856 forty camels were sent to Camp Verde by the Secretary of War, to be used in for overland communications, this earned the camp the nickname of "Little Egypt". Disney made a movie about this. The general store is still in the same location, it has been rebuilt and enlarged from the original, during the days of Camp Verde it was only open one day a month, Pay day, now it's happy to take your money seven days a week.

Fredericksburg is home to the Museum of the Pacific War, its original name was the Admiral Nimitz Museum, OK I asked the same thing why would there be a Navy Museum out in the middle of Texas. Well this is where he was born and raised, his family owned the local hotel and set aside a room to display items from his career. They gathered so much stuff that it was turned into the National Museum of the Pacific War,right now the hotel houses the Admiral Nimitz Museum and covers his life and career. Out the back door and down the block and you enter the Museum of the Pacific War which is in the George Bush Building (the dad), after that it's through the Plaza of the Presidents, the Veterans Walk of Honor, the Japanese garden and down two blocks to the Pacific War zone. Here they have one of probably only six original PT boats that saw action in the Pacific on display, the PT 309, also a field hospital, beachhead for re-enactments and a large variety of heavy equipment. Right now they have 34,000 sq ft and they are adding another 40,000 to it. We were here for the better part of four hours and your ticket is good for a second visit with the stub.
For more information:

Another thing about this area is that there are a lot of caves where the Mexican Bats spend there summers, on private property just outside of town there is a Hygieostatic Bat Roost constructed in 1918 in an attempt to keep down the mosquito population and prevent disease's. This thing is about 50 feet tall and originally housed about 10,000 bats, right now in it's run down condition it only has about 1000 residents, the BCI is in the process of rebuilding it.

OK, it's time to head into the traffic of San Antonio to visit the Botanical Gardens, once again the way the roads are designed here it almost forces you to drive with your head up your A**. I've found that if you just get in the right lane, drive a decent speed and ignore all the hand signals the drivers passing you are giving it's a breeze, for some reason everybody in this town thinks that Cathy is number One.
They have a very nice garden here, a lot of different flowers in bloom and quite a few things that we've never seen before, it gets a little confusing with all the trails and paths but with my trusty map I only got us lost 2 or 3 times. It's about 30 acres and we spent about 3 hours wandering around it on a beautiful sunny 80 degree day.

This Aloe plant is about 8 feet tall.

Remember you can't spell Texas without LBJ, well I guess you can and now that I look at it this doesn't make a damn bit of sense, but every place we've been in Texas has been LBJ country.

Our first LBJ stop in this area was his boyhood home in Johnson City, of course,the visitors center has two movies one on him and the other on Lady Bird. This is the home he grew up in and where he attend school, funny thing happened while we were here, the Ranger was on the front porch telling us the history of the home when a tour bus pulled up in front of the house and stopped, 30 people scrambled off the bus ran up to the sidewalk took a picture then ran back onto the bus and then it was gone. Total time of their stop was maybe two minutes, nothing longer, reminded me of the movie National Lampoon Vacation when they make a 30 second stop to see the Grand Canyon. After this we walked around the Johnson Settlement and farm until lunch, good thing Cathy spotted a little rundown looking place near by that ended up having some really fantastic food. It was to late and we were too stuffed to tour the other half of the LBJ National Park, so we'll do that tomorrow.

Tomorrow here, and we're off to visit the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House. Located about 8 miles from his boyhood home is the ranch, this park is in two parts, south of the Pedernales River is State Park and north of the river is Nation Park. Up until August of this year you had to buy a ticket and board a tour buss at the State Park and they would take you to the ranch and drive you through making stops at points of interest, but the LBJ Centennial started in August and they did away with the bus and you drive your own car around stopping where you want. They loan you a CD that you play as you drive around and it explains everything to you. The ranch contains the school he attended, the house he was born in with the original bed and bedspread, his aunt and uncles house, the corrals, barns and of course the Texas White House. This is the first year that you are allowed to tour the house since up until Lady Birds death she was still living here. Also the family cemetery is here and is were the President and Lady Bird are buried. The really cool thing is that his ancestors settled this area and founded the town and it has been Johnson land, controlled and lived on until the National Park service took it over.
One story about our visit, as usual Cathy and I were the youngest ones there, as we were touring the grounds of the house an old guy, probably 12-15 years older then us, got lost form his party and started wondering around with us. As we were getting ready to enter the house and tour the Presidents Office the Ranger stopped us and insisted that we remember that this office was used in the 60's and everything is just as it was then, she asked us to all just close our eyes for a minute and get in the time machine that would take us back to the 60's and to keep thinking that we were back in the 60's. Then she said OK lets enter the house, as we were waiting on the sidewalk the old guy was next to Cathy and saying to himself ,we're in the 60's, we're in the 60's, we're in the 60's. As soon as we started to walk he elbowed Cathy in the side and ask, "Hey you got an extra joint", made our day.
After we returned the CD we spent about an hour walking around a Living History Farm there then called it a long, long day.

LBJ had two matching Lincolns which he drove very fast on the ranch, if he busted an axle or something else he would call the Secret Service on the radio and tell them "bring me the other Lincoln and a tow truck"

This is the dam in front of the house and also the main driveway into the ranch, in the one movie, they film him driving down onto the dam and it looks like he's driving right into the water.

Lunch Time for the little one.

Notice the LBJ brand on the horns.

Family Cemetery

LBJ's & Lady Birds Graves, for some reason they don't have a stone on hers yet, so they mark it with fresh wildflowers.

Hope everybody enjoys Thanksgiving and has a safe holiday, Cathy and I are giving thanks to the fact that she did have an extra joint.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Austin City Limits

Austin, the Capitol of the Lone Star State.

To start with Austin has probably the worst traffic and drivers that we have come across in the last 10 years, the way the streets and freeways are designed it almost forces you to drive like an Idiot, which reminds me of a quote from the late great George Carlin " Anybody that drives slower then me is an Idiot, Anybody that drives faster then me is an Asshole" so just let me say that Austin is full of assholes and idiots. Other then that we're having fun here, both of us are really starting to love Texas, some of the friendliest people we've ever run across, even the bad drivers, when they cut you off they're smiling while they flip you the bird.

We went to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center the other day, there were just enough flowers blooming to make it worth while to walk through, it looks like it would
really be great in the spring. It covers about 42 acres and is part of the University of Texas (Hookem Horns) so they do a lot of class room stuff and research.

Zilker Botanical Gardens is located inside one of the city's parks, even without a lot of blooms it's a very nice park, there is a fountain right at the start and it overflows into a little steam that you follow and it leads through the gardens.

We spent about two hours wondering around and I think I found out why I like Texas so much, from the historical marker in the gardens it looks like I might have some roots here, I could have been a Texas Ranger I guess.

Click to enlarge

After the Garden we drove across the street to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, this is the home of the late American sculptor Charles Umlauf, it covers about an acre and a half and has about 30 of his sculpture on display, he had a wide assortment ranging from Christian sculptures to nudes. Watched their ten minute video when we went in and found out how the sculptures are made, it's a very interesting process that would start in his studio then go to Italy and then back to the USA. He was an instructor at UT, so well probably see more of his stuff when we go up there.
For more info: Click here

Since I couldn't get Cathy to dress up in the French Maid costume for Halloween we drove downtown after dinner to the Congress Street Bridge, why bother to go there for Halloween, well the largest urban bat colony in the USA lives right under the bridge, and every night they come out to search for bugs to eat. This is right at the very end of the season, they're Mexican Bats and the migrate back to Mexico for the winter and at least half have already left, but at the peak there are over 1.5 million of the little guys that come flying out. They circle under the bridge until there is a group of about 50,000 then they take off down the river or into downtown, it was to dark to get any pictures but I found a link for Youtube that shows you what it's like.
Congress Street Bats

Did I mention that we are now big Texas football Fans, well this brings a Bad news / Good news situation, the bad news is that our beloved Texas Longhorns lost last night (hookem Horns, when driving around Austin you have to hang out the window giving the hand signal for the horns while yelling HOOOOOOKEMMMMMM HORNS, Cathy is getting very good at this) to those no good bums the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the good news is that our beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders who are still undefeated.
You poor poor Michigan people.

They start them young in
Long Horn Territory.

Stopped by the LBJ Museum and Library, the hardest part was finding our way through the construction from the parking lot to the front door. This is a nice museum (and the only Presidential Library that is free, he insisted on it) and covers the life of LBJ and Lady Bird very well, there is a 20 minute movie which covers most of his election campaigns, you also find out that LBJ was a very funny guy. This is the 100th anniversary of LBJ and the 50th of NASA which he was responsible for getting off the ground (get it, off the ground) so there is a special exhibit covering the first part of the space race with Russia.

Teleprompter used by LBJ for his I will not run speech

Some of LBJ papers from his political career.......

Click to enlarge and read, this is the safety plug for the atom bomb to make sure it didn't go off to soon.

Amela Earharts' early pilots license notice that it is signed by Orville Wright.

This is one of the early Russia space capsules, gee they figured out how to make a ball, very very primitive when you look inside.

Can't leave Austin with out visiting the The Texas State Cemetery, as you know we stop at quiet a few cemeteries and this has to be one of the prettiest we've been to, it's also set up so you can actually follow the map and find what you are looking for. Sit back and enjoy the tour.

Stephen F Austin "The Father Of Texas" working with the Mexican Government he settled the first 300 American families in the Texas territory in 1820. He then served as the first Secretary of State for the Republic of Texas.

Johnston was a General for three different nations, the Republic of Texas, the United States and the Confederate States of America. He died leading his men in battle at Shiloh.

The Betsy Ross of Texas, living in Georgia when she learned that a Georgia Battalion was going to Texas to assist them with their battle for independence, she gave then a hand sewn flag that she had made for them. It was the lone star flag which they carried to Golaid, when Colonel Fannin heard of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence he raised the flag and it became the flag of the Republic of Texas. During the Battle of Goliad, Fannin and his men were captured and later executed.

Any stone that has the little gold star at the top is a member of one of the original 300 families that came to Texas with Austin in 1820.

James Michener, author of the book Texas which Cathy said is a must read and if you don't have the time for a 800 page Michener book then do like I did rent the DVD. It covers the history of Texas from Austin's 300 through the wars with Mexico for their independence to Texas joining the United States, a very good movie and a fantastic history.

Texas's number one Cowboy.

Colonel Christian was the Great Grandson of Stonewall Jackson, he died during WW II while flying a P-51 over Arras, France.

9-11 Monument, with two steel columns from Ground Zero.

Click to read, tells about a body found on the ship wreck Belle which was part of the La Salle expedition that landed in Texas in 1685.

Texas State Highway 165, the shortest highway in Texas, being 1/2 mile long, through the cemetery.

For more information on this Cemetery hit the Clicky This really a great website, give it a look.

Cathy and I are off to Comfort Texas, where she thinks we're just going to sit around for a month relaxing, NOT.